A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Around the World
CANADA: Archaeologists have revisited the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of the ships of the ill-fated 1845 Franklin Expedition’s quest to find the Northwest Passage. They retrieved more than 275 artifacts from the captain’s steward’s pantry and 2 officers’ cabins, including a pair of lieutenant’s epaulettes in a bedside drawer. In the pantry, divers found fancy table settings as well as a leather-bound folio. Captain John Franklin and the expedition’s 128 crew members perished off King William Island during their search.
MEXICO: Mexican authorities revealed a collection of stone sculptures and stucco masks uncovered at the Maya site of Toniná. Most of the well-preserved objects were found within a building known as the House of the Re-Creation of the Universe. Dating to between A.D. 650 and 700, many of the objects represent themes connected with the earth or sky. One mask depicts the lord of the underworld, who is recognizable by his lack of a lower jaw, a common trait of inhabitants of the nether realm.
GERMANY: Although taboo for many today, humans have been wearing fur coats for at least 300,000 years. One of the earliest examples of hominins removing animal hides to use them as clothing comes from the site of Schöningen in Lower Saxony. Experts believe that cut marks on metatarsal and phalanx bones from the paws of extinct cave bears found there were not made during the normal butchering process, since there was little meat in the paws. Instead, they were likely made when the pelts were removed to be worn as protection against the harsh winter elements.
HUNGARY: Attila was called “the scourge of all lands,” but he was a particular nuisance to the Romans. As leader of the nomadic Eurasian Huns in the mid-5th century A.D., he frequently battled Rome. However, a new study relying on tree-ring analysis as well as historical and archaeological evidence suggests that money, bloodlust, and military glory may not have been Attila’s primary motivations. A series of severe droughts in the Huns’ homeland may have forced them into Roman territory to avoid starvation.
ITALY: They may not have enjoyed peanuts or Cracker Jack, but Roman spectators attending games in the Colosseum 1,900 years ago had plenty to snack on. An investigation of the sewer system that collected refuse and debris washed down from above indicates that fans munched on olives, figs, walnuts, and melons. They even enjoyed freshly cooked meat prepared on improvised braziers. Skeletal remains of beasts that died fighting for the Romans’ entertainment, such as tigers, bears, and leopards, were also found.
EGYPT: Two high-ranking Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.) Egyptian officials were laid to rest with crocodile heads to aid them in their journey to the afterlife. In western Thebes, 9 crocodile skulls were found wrapped in linen and entombed with 2 noblemen, one of whom was named Cheti. Although the mummified remains of complete crocodiles have previously been found in temples and animal cemeteries, this is the first time that non-mummified crocodile heads have been discovered buried along with people.
ERITREA: A pair of ancient churches first discovered more than a century ago was reexamined using modern excavation and dating techniques. The structures are located in the port of Adulis in territory that once belonged to the Kingdom of Aksum. The Aksumites controlled a powerful empire covering much of northeast Africa and southern Arabia during the 1st millennium A.D. In the 4th century A.D., the Aksumite king Ezana converted to Christianity. The 2 churches, now securely dating to between the 5th and 7th centuries A.D., are among the earliest Christian buildings in the region.
ISRAEL: A mysterious 1,500-year-old skeleton bound in heavy iron rings was unearthed at Khirbat el-Masani, north of Jerusalem. During the Byzantine era, the site was home to a monastery, a church, and an inn for religious pilgrims. Researchers believe that the deceased man practiced an extreme form of asceticism and that his seemingly tortured state was self-inflicted. The man was likely a monk who intentionally bound his neck, feet, and hands in chains as a way to attain salvation by denying himself simple sensory pleasures.
OMAN: Archaeologists unearthed a series of buildings belonging to the Umm al-Nar culture at the site of Dahwa that date to the mid-3rd millennium B.C. Amid the ruins was a tomb that contained a collection of silver jewelry, including a ring stamped with an image of an Indian bison. This was a common motif used in artwork of the Indus Valley, or Harappan, civilization. Analysis showed that the ring was likely made in Mesopotamia from silver sourced in Anatolia, highlighting the extensive trade networks cultivated by the area’s Bronze Age merchants.
JAPAN: During the 1st millennium A.D., Japanese aristocrats were sometimes buried in sumptuous tombs alongside ritual statues known as haniwa. These were mostly made from terracotta, but on rare occasions were carved from wood. The largest known wooden haniwa was recently uncovered near the Minegazuka Kofun mound in Habikino. Dating to the 5th century A.D., the 11-foot-tall figure was recovered from a moat that surrounded the 315-foot-long monumental tomb.
Snacking in the Colosseum, Japanese tomb statue, Attila the Hun’s motives, 300,000-year-old fur coats, and Egyptian crocodiles in the afterlife
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